Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Essay Six

Today I was summoned into an emergency meeting for a new business pitch. The rainmakers required unique expertise on a critical topic. And apparently, they turned to me after failed initial attempts at locating the Mailroom Dude.

Here’s the story. The prospective client had inquired about the agency’s capabilities in addressing African American consumers. This request posed quite a challenge, as the agency has zero capabilities—hell, they don’t even have disabilities in this area.

In a company of 150+ employees, the only African Americans are the Mailroom Dude and yours truly. And I later learned they debated seeking me out because some folks didn’t think I was African American (the result of being somewhat light-skinned, I guess).

It’s always interesting to watch White Folks stumble into the great cultural divide. The conversations often feature at least one person employing Afro-American, while the rest are never quite sure if using Black is appropriate. You’ll occasionally encounter someone still comfortable with Negro—but these old-timers are pretty rare.

Being called upon to represent the collective minority is both a big responsibility and a big pain in the ass. Guesses become gospel, and stereotypes perpetuate with each personal anecdote. The Junior Account Executive records every spoken word like a court stenographer, probably hoping for something to later mix into his Eminem-inspired rhymes. The Creative Director who routinely blows off your opinions suddenly leans in like Kwai Chang Caine bowing before the blind Master. And I always have to wonder when the Director of Account Planning proclaims, “People are people!”

I’m tempted to offer false testimony—like convince them that Wayne Brady is the quintessential spokesperson. But I ultimately play it polite and professional. Which maybe makes me a lot like Wayne Brady.

No offense, Wayne.

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